Friday, October 25, 2013

The Hopson Plan and What It Portends for the Schools

The SCS superintendent would keep all unincorporated areas in the unified system as well as four suburban school buildings — three in Germantown, one in Millington.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 11:44 AM

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson
  • Superintendent Dorsey Hopson
The Shelby County school controversy moved a conspicuous step closer to conclusion this week, with superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s presentation at a Tuesday night meeting of the unified Shelby County Schools board of a plan regarding two hitherto unresolved matters: what to do with students in unincorporated Shelby County and what to do with school buildings in the six municipalities that will be setting up independent school systems, perhaps as early as August 2014.

Hopson’s plan is based on the assumptions(1) that possession is nine-tenths of the law and that the SCS board is the legal owner of all of the county’s buildings) and (2) that the unified county board is required by state law to teach all students not otherwise accounted for in a school district. Under the plan, students in the county’s unincorporated areas would be the responsibility of SCS, and, as a corollary to that, three Germantown schools and one in Millington would remain in the unified system.

Clearly, the superintendent’s wish to see to the long-term solvency of the unified SCS was a major factor in his thinking. Each student from an unincorporated area brings ADA (Average Daily Attendance) allotments from the state, and partisans of the unified district contend that the new municipal system would at some point become unwilling to cater to these students as their facilities filled up, putting the issue of potential and costly new construction front and center.

The plan seemed to suit a majority of the seven-member SCS board, which will formally vote on it Monday night, and it met with preliminary approval from several municipal mayors, who were gratified that their claim on school properties has at last been acknowledged.

But Germantown mayor Sharon Goldsworthy heatedly objects to the inclusion of Germantown Elementary, Germantown Middle, and Germantown High School within SCS’s purview — their inclusion based on the fact that all these schools, like Lucy Elementary in Millington, comprise a student majority from unincorporated areas.The kind of united front that in the past has led to legislative action on behalf of the suburbs in Nashville, however, has apparently been broken

If the plan passes muster with the board on Monday night, the stage is set for action on costing out the transfer of school properties. The board is thought to prefer a lease agreement with the municipalities at something well above a token rate.

Before the board meets on Monday, the Shelby County Commission will probably have considered a motion by suburban Republican member Chris Thomas to drop the current litigation against the municipalities on grounds that it is now irrelevant, but that is not likely to happen until a final agreement is signed and sealed.

Thomas’ motion was discussed by the Commission’s general government committee on Wednesday and was objeccted to a an apparent majority of those present. And a majority of 7 members — six Democrats and Republican Mike Ritz — seem destined to oppose it if is placed on the agenda. Commission chairman James Harvey, also a Democrat, may vote with Thomas and four other Republicans to sustain it.

The remaining active portion of the litigation concerns the Commission argument that creation of suburban municipal-school systems in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington, Lakeland, and Millington will foster re-segregation and is thereby unconstitutional.

Thomas premises his resolution on the theory that the SCS board has indicated its decision on remaining aspects of the school-merger controversy would not be based on the resegregation claim. Sources in the Commission majority, however, see that aspect of litigation as leverage as negotiation wend their way to a result and express the view that abandonment of if would be a premature folly.

Presiding federal judge Hardy Mays has granted a fresh 60-day extension of his working deadline to see an agreement reached.

Meanwhile, school board elections will be held in several of the suburbs on Thusday, November 7. [Note: Election date corrected from earlier version of post].

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